The holidays come with extra joy and extra headaches, all of which can amount to a whole lot of distractions. Whether it’s family, friends, the increased obligations of the season, or just the mess of everyone else’s preparations in the world around you, holiday distractions can cause a big disruption to your established routines. And working remotely can increase distractions exponentially. If you’re having a tough time being productive while working from home during the holiday season, use these four tips to reduce holiday distractions.
1. Get clear on what is or isn’t a distraction
Most of the distractions that swirl around you involve people, activities, obligations, and environment.
First, what’s your definition of a distraction at this holiday time? Decorating a tree is a distraction for me, and I honestly just hate doing it. Knitting socks for relatives or as a donation is a joy for me.
People and your environment tend to go together. There are usually more people in your space at holiday time. That’s a distraction. And the Centers for Disease Control tell us that more than 5,000 people are injured during the holidays when they’re decorating their environment. For sure, falling off a ladder and fracturing your ankle is a big distraction, so create a safe environment for yourself.
Obligations are a big distraction at holiday time. Oh, you must go to your kid’s Christmas concert. Oh, you know it’s politically incorrect to skip the office (church, golf club, etc.) party. And sometimes these obligations entail working in the kitchen, where you end up multi-tasking.
Multi-tasking is a killer. Since I work from home at least 2 days a week, I hear myself saying, “Oh, I can just quick-quick whip up a batch of cookies.” Before I know it, I’ve burned the cookies, made a mess, and perhaps ended up having to shop for groceries because the ingredients are now down the disposal.
These obligations won’t magically disappear. However, we can choose how we deal with them.
Interruptions aren’t exactly the same as distractions. Interruptions are those events that just show up, and we don’t have much control over them. For example, the UPS guy shows up at the door while you’re trying to complete a report or write a blog. Unless you need to sign for it or feel it’s unsafe to leave it on the porch, just stay put. If you must retrieve it, don’t get caught in a conversation—and don’t obsess over a package that arrives too early or too late. Be aware that these things happen, and promise yourself you’ll stay focused.
Figuring out what’s a distraction and what’s actually important to you is the first step to reducing holiday distractions.
2. Accept what you cannot change
Events and situations that occur during the holiday season are often something we just need to accept. They can be a big distraction when they happen, and an even bigger distraction if we ruminate on them over the next few days.
I accept that my loud, noisy relatives will be at the table. The traffic jams in the greater Washington DC area where I live are worse than usual, and the parking spots at the grocery store might be too scarce. Earlier in life, I’d let this get the better of me. I’d be distracted before and afterwards, worrying about it happening beforehand and ruminating on my misery afterwards. More recently, I’ve learned to accept this stuff in the holiday season.
I’m not saying you must agree with your relatives who loudly sing the praises of the political candidate you don’t like. I’m not saying you must capitulate to the traffic jams and the long walks from the edge of the parking lot to the grocery store. I am saying that you need to accept that these situations will happen.
For some of these situations, you may be able to find a workaround. If the traffic and parking lots stress you out, try using a grocery delivery service—maybe not forever, but during the holiday season. Do some online shopping. For others, you might just have to grin and bear it. If you don’t like the conversation at the dinner table, stay on the sidelines or find your happy place in your mind for a few minutes. (And grab the first opportunity you find for a change in topic!)
You can’t control everything that goes on around you, but by controlling how you react, you can keep your head on straight and reduce holiday distractions.
3. Set boundaries
In my view, this is the most important part of coping with the holiday distractions. Especially for those of us who work from home, the holiday season is a time when we very well might have someone invading our “office” space.
Try to remember that it’s a short-term thing, and embrace the concept of boundaries. From Nedra Glover Tawwab’s Set Boundaries, Find Peace, I’ve learned what firm boundaries are, what porous boundaries are, and how to set healthy boundaries. Otherwise, what you feel can become worse than a distraction: it can turn into a resentment.
Get an agreement for your guests’ arrival and departure dates. Make it clear that you need x number of hours a day to work, and be ready to help the guests generate some ideas for how to entertain themselves while you work. These might be local attractions, unusual (or favorite) shopping opportunities, their old friends in your neighborhood, or even a task they might be willing to do for you. Promise to have a fun dinner with them at the end of the work day.
If you want to reduce holiday distractions, you have to be honest with yourself and others about what you need and want. Boundaries are essential.
4. Live your values
The whole secular Christmas hype doesn’t align with my values. It’s just a distraction to the real meaning of Christmas, which is a about peace, joy, family, and giving of self. Anything that doesn’t align with those values is just a big distraction for me.
Living your values might mean finding opportunities to turn the hustle-bustle into a tranquil oasis. Those opportunities are out there, but we do need to hunt for them.
Find ways to do what you value, rather than what others expect you to do.
My sister died last Christmas Eve. Now, finding myself as the matriarch of the extended family, I’ve recognized that I need to find a way to get the family together. I suspected there was an underlying expectation that I’d cook and serve the meal. Although I am fully capable of making the entire meal from scratch, I value meaningful interactions more than food. So, for Thanksgiving this year, I bought the already-cooked turkey breast and the mashed potatoes and even the pumpkin pie from Costco. I did make gravy from scratch, baked a cherry pie, and made all of the other sides. It wasn’t what people were used to, but it turned out just great.
In short, some of what we’re “supposed” to do for the holidays comes down to other people’s assumptions or expectations of us, not what we really value. So to reduce holiday distractions, decide what’s important to you, and pursue those things.
Make the most of your holiday season
If you’re celebrating this month, you probably won’t get exactly as much work done as you do in a “normal” month. Family and friends are a blessed distraction, and obviously not one I’d want to do away with entirely! So take my four tips with you:
- sort out your distractions,
- mitigate what you can and make peace with the rest,
- make your boundaries clear, and
- figure out what’s really important to you.
Ideally, you’ll find your perfect balance. You’ll work when you need to, and truly enjoy the people and the season the rest of the time!
What drives you crazy this time of year, and how do you reduce holiday distractions?
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